The Chronicles of Estiah

Chapter 14: Poison

The axe landed next to the young man's cheek. A hairsbreadth more to the right would have sent him to a realm from which there was no return.

"So he really can't move." Nikkum sounded amazed. "Woman, give me the antidote."

After witnessing such a ruthless act, Lily didn't dispute, holding out two green gems. "This one is to remove the paralyzer, the other is to..."

"Cleanse the poison." Nikkum finished the sentence in her stead. "Always administer two poisons at a time if you can't afford failure." He sounded like he was quoting someone.

Lily was petrified by Nikkum's words, the glistening stones fell from her palm. "Who... told you that?!"

"Nobody." Nikkum gathered them and put them back into her frozen hands, "I doubt I can use them anyway, so do it yourself."

"You're trusting me to do this?" Lily's voice was trembling.

"Things are just how they look, if you end up killing him by 'mistake', it won't stop me from breathing tomorrow." Nikkum added, "I admit that I'd be irritated though."

The numbness waned from Saar's limbs as he saw the refreshing green light pass over him. He was still felling terribly weak, but at least could feel his body once more. He coughed: "I knew... you weren't going to kill me... not this soon."

"That day will inevitably come." Nikkum's cold-blooded response sent a quiver right down Lily's spine. "What do you want to do with her?"

"I'd be so annoyed to die by your mongrel's hands." Lily regained some of her usual character.

"Stray cats have to be taught some lessons before they can be brought in a house." Even a composed man like Saar was capable of anger, especially soon after having survived a life-or-death situation.

"Pardon me? Lessons where you don't get to cut something off are meaningless to me." Nikkum looked bothered.

"No way are you going to put your dirty hands on me." By the time these words slipped out she was already next to the window. "Enjoy your friendship, because I'm not going to have any part of that."

Before her sentence ended, she threw herself out of the window. Her thin silhouette disappeared into the night like a fleeting dream.

Nikkum shrugged to the young man who still hadn't regained mobility. "She could've taken the door, I wasn't going to chase her anyway. And we're in a second story room."

"Cats can survive a fall much higher than that." The pale face didn't help much in letting Nikkum know if Saar was returning to his normal condition.

"Want to resume our earlier discussion, the one before the tea party?" Nikkum looked more awake than before taking the paralyzer, maybe the exercise did the trick.

"Leave it for now, you have no idea how wasted I am because of her." Saar was telling the truth.

"Fine. There is a tough battle awaiting us tomorrow anyway, when Abedgar's Slayers will have gathered enough men." Nikkum said this to the faint orange light far in horizon. "Dawn is due in no time."

Nikkum sat back in the corner; the other bed would remain empty during the short remaining night. However, Saar spent the rest of the time with his eyes wide open.

When the capital of magic was bathed in warm sunshine, Saar started to doze off. In his doze he could hear Nikkum yelling at a poor inn clerk, overslept merchants' rushing footsteps rumbling down the stairs in fear of missing the market opening, and the gallop of conveyors' mounts who probably had some urgent letters to deliver. This was a common day in Zeal, but Saar had just survived an unusually terrible night.

As the little inn was bustling with guests and clerks' business, Saar was finally able to sit up. He narrowed his eyes at the strong and dazzling sunlight streaming through the open window. An imprudent tree sparrow rested on the window frame at its convenience then made two short chirps before taking its leave. Lily did not show up again after all, just like this sparrow that was fast in coming and in leaving. Her antidotes weren't fake; the malice in the young man's body was gone, yet his entire body was feeling the poisons. He was alone in his room, but Nikkum was undoubtedly still around somewhere in this new battlefield: he could indistinctly overhear the sharp sounds of broken dishes and the apologies of cowardly inn servants. Perhaps the creature was simply driven by its hunger and lured by perfumed food, its rampaging claws were causing quite a ruckus among the trained workers. Saar's stomach was letting out little sounds of complaint as well. He might be godly in power, but he remained still humble in flesh. Then he observed the miserable door being mistreated by Nikkum's kick.

"Can you believe that! I went for some grub and I was told to wait till breakfast time like all the other guys!" Being deprived of food must be something insanely scandalous to Nikkum.

"So you broke into their kitchen and helped yourself?" Saar's look was somehow diverted to the roasted rabbit thigh that Nikkum was holding.

"Want some?" Nikkum advanced the hunch of meat.

"No thanks. I'm not fit for this oily thing in the morning." Saar's pride was hardly covering up his drooling inside. The room was filled with the heavy aroma of a roast, inviting and tempting the youth through all his senses.

"So be it." Nikkum took a large bite, "Juicy!"

"Any unusual activities from the city guards?"

"Oddly enough, I didn't see any."

"Are you certain? Were you too busy finding food like a pathetic beggar?"

"Since they didn't come to me, I just assumed there were none."

Saar examined the courtyard where they had landed last night through the window. Their room was actually quite high considering that this was only a two-story inn.

"Lily jumped from here?"

Nikkum approached him: "I'm amazed she didn't break her head from this height."

"Only a Berserker lands on his head after jumping." Saar had to condescend to him at every opportunity.

Then his gaze was attracted again to the rabbit thigh which was merely a few strings of meat around a bone now, and he watched Nikkum throw it out of window.

"Ouch!" The leftover landed on an unlucky man's head. As he raised his eyes, Nikkum was nowhere to be seen, crouching to hide himself. Saar was caught alone in this misunderstanding, forced to wear a much embarrassed smile.

"That wasn't..." Saar knew his defense was pointless, his last word faded quickly. He looked down the untamed animal ducked next to him, who started to giggle.

"Good Sir, did you wish to speak with me?" The man's politeness was not even faked.

Nikkum put both hands on his mouth, and his chuckles didn't stop. However, Saar had to cover up the situation, "Ye...s, I just wanted to say 'good morning'."

"That was a weird way to say 'good morning', Good Sir." the reply was pointed. "I'm resting in the room opposite to yours, please come over later if you wish to talk, over a cup of tea."

Nikkum burst into laughter: "A tea, ha ha ha!"

Saar kicked the man rolling on the floor with the tiny force he was able to muster; his cheeks had an unexplained blush. "Stop that, silly!"

Nikkum's emotion was no more under self control as he began to cough: "He invited you to a tea party!"

"Sir, sorry, I didn't hear you clearly." The man in the courtyard timidly raised his mild voice, in fear of disturbing the neighbors.

"I'll be there! See you later." Saar's wish to end this conversation was crystal clear.

"See you!" The man finally decided to walk away.

Saar turned to Nikkum who was still unable to get up, his face filled with anger: "I bet you did that on purpose!"

"So what?" The mighty warrior had a strange childish side, despite his fearsome build. "That's the guy who conspired with Lily to provide your 'delicious' drink."

Saar unconsciously covered his mouth: "There is no doubt Lily thought of that alone. That man looked honest to me, at least more mature than you."

Nikkum jumped up from his back: "Think as you see fit. I can trust no one anyway."

"Even me?"

"Especially you."

"All right. Be on your guard the next time you take my teleporting spell." Saar's voice carried an air of mockery, if not menace.

"Are you going to distort the main portal again?" Nikkum was finally back on a serious track.

"I don't know if I will be able to, unless all the poisons were truly taken out from my body." Saar emphasized the word 'truly'.

"She was only a petty thief who wanted my gold, she had no reason to send you to see your ancestors. You saved her after all." Nikkum had it right.

"I wish you were in my shoes to taste that paralyzer. I literally lost my physical body."

"Well, I did have my share."

"Still, you were fine."

"Yeah."

"'Innate ability'?"

"You named it."

Saar was displeased with his companion's unwillingness to surrender the secret, and yet what bothered him the most was that his enemy had learned that he was still a man made of flesh, who could be affected by any deadly poison. Exposing one's weakness was an indisputable danger. He was seething with anger at himself. While he had almost managed to master this spiraling drama between Nikkum and Lily, he had allowed himself to swallow something that might be fatal to his plans. A calm reflection helped Saar recover a little in comfort. The wild animal in front of him was scratching its head as if it had observed nothing special during last night's incident, and worse, this very animal might hold the key to cure his one weakness once and for all; giving immunity to all poisons.

"When do we leave?" Nikkum moved his neck back and forth as if performing a warm-up exercise.

"At noon." Saar followed with an explanation, "I need to gather some information from our 'new friend'."

"I think the longer we stay, the more likely Abedgar's guys are going to storm in here." Nikkum had a good point.

"Look, this part of Zeal is basically a slum. The city guards won't set foot in here unless they really have to." Saar clarified the situation.

"Like having their hierarch butchered by some barbarians isn't a good enough excuse for them to come?" Nikkum tightened the belt which attached the gold bag to his waist.

"We'll find out about it soon." Saar heard steps on the stairs, "It must be Celius, do you want to come as well?"

Nikkum shook his head: "I'm not interested in what he did to Lily last night."

"Me neither..." Saar defended.

Nikkum closed his eyes and shooed the young man's curiosity off with his left hand.

"They had a tea party..." Saar's defense was collapsing.

Nikkum repeated his gesture. "You'd better watch out if he's going to brew you some tea too."

"I..." Saar went speechless and shut the door behind him as he went out.

The sparrow from earlier flew back near the window as it saw Nikkum alone. Its clear and sharp eyes saw no danger in this blood-tainted warrior who was contemplating, mindlessly, the bright sky. Every little jump it made seemed to be steps of a joyful dance, tempting Nikkum with the freedom of flight. He sat stiff and tight, the man's mind was filled with many questions and doubt. This was a rare moment of peace, one of the few he could allow himself until everything had settled down and every page of the tale was written. Saar's impromptu decision to change the schedule allowed him to have this momentum of blankness, just like an empty intermission during a play.

Life was much like a dramatic production, the only difference being that it had to be played in a boundless theatre called "the world".

The clouds were taking creative shapes, rolling by in front of Nikkum's eyes. Like a newborn being amazed by the first light, Nikkum straightened out one arm toward those flying white masses. His eyes could see his hand reach them, but his heart knew they were far beyond his reach. The little sparrow audaciously jumped into the large palm, tickling the bronze skin, toughened by countless dead souls. Attracted by this trivial creature, the beast woke and its gaze focused on the bird and began to slowly close its grip. The movement was so slow that the fragile sparrow didn't sense the doom falling upon it, and instead let out some more tweets to show its liveliness. There was some unspeakable tension building up in the air, the beast's claw formed a cage of flesh, squeezing and shrinking. The sparrow manifested its miniscule head every now and then between the fissures of the tightening cage, however its body was obviously obstructed. Nikkum looked at it fixedly, wordlessly and breathlessly. He was holding a pounding heart, which was made so strong by nature and yet so weak by one man's hand. He couldn't help but keep seizing his grip, even the feathers were nowhere to be seen and the singing could no longer be heard. He felt two heartbeats accelerating in tempo, one eager to kill, another eager to die. He was completely lost in his own world with this ordinary sparrow, it was not power he was demonstrating, but a fate he was altering.

Yet, it might be the sparrow's true destiny after all.

"We've got to move." Saar barged into the unreal world by opening the door promptly, "Celius told me he saw loads of guards on his way back."

"Is that pancakes?" Nikkum seemed to be more concerned by the delicious smell.

"Guards are coming." Saar was disturbed and answered incautiously, "Yes, that's pancakes. Want some?"

"Definitely." Nikkum let his hand loose and prepared to catch the food.

A tiny body fell from his grasp.

Saar threw one share of the butter-soaked pancake to the beast, who caught it effortlessly. "We don't have much time, eat that up and then we're leaving."

Nikkum stuffed the pancake into his mouth and stood up. Before taking a single step, he cowered from the window: "Down on the floor."

"What?" Saar looked perplexed.

"They're already here." Nikkum easily recognized the city guards' unique tabard, "At least forty of them in the courtyard."

Saar quickly recognized the situation as well, then lowered his body and moved toward the door without making any noise. He could already hear the commotion downstairs, and the necessity of improvising a plan made him bite into his one remaining pancake.

Nikkum crawled to the door at low speed, watching the young man devour the food with jealous eyes.

"Anything on my face?" Saar snapped impatiently. His mind was blank as a white paper, and Nikkum's gaze was distracting him.

"No, I'm just wondering if that was a 'special' pancake." Nikkum hinted.

"Don't worry; it doesn't contain any poison. I know from Celius' eyes that he's an honest man." Saar eased his company's anxiety before the unavoidable battle, "He didn't know any of what happened to us last night."

"Certainly." Nikkum pointed at the red ring that the young wizard was rubbing nervously, "If you are to burn down the building, be sure to burn it with its owner inside. Otherwise he'll make me pay the repair bills."

Saar was too confused to tell whether or not the beast was joking. As he listened to the sound of steady steps approaching their room, he was prepared for the worst. Due to the incident with Lily, he was in no state to push off so many trained guards, let alone cast another teleportation spell. His life was probably again in Nikkum's hands, the only person who was able to get him out of this mess at the moment. Every step sounded like a tone out of rhythm, grating on his nerves, hurting his eardrums. He couldn't count their numbers, and the only word came to him was: "Many."

"Yeah, this is what you call an outnumbered, surrounded and desperate situation." Nikkum had an odd habit of getting humorous when he shouldn't.

The steps of guards stopped in front of their room. They could be heard asking loudly: "Which room?!"

Saar was unable to hear the reply. His spells were definitely ready to burst the first one to charge in. However, Nikkum was distracted by something else.

The little sparrow strained to open its eyes and arduously flapped its wings to leave through the window for the sky.

Nikkum, watching it, murmured, "If only I had wings like those..."

"Don't talk." Saar's anxiety was reaching it limit. A thin wooden door separated the known and the unknown, and he was sickened to be on the wrong side.

Then he heard one guard yell in a loud voice: "Celius Silverstone, by the decision of the High Council of Zeal, you are under arrest for conspiracy and high treason!"